How to Spot a Fake Google Restaurant Review and What to Do if You Receive One

Fake Google reviews are on the rise. Restaurateurs from San Francisco to New York have reported an attack of one-star Google ratings, left without descriptions or photos by people who appear to have never dined at the restaurants. As reported by the New York Times, many operators said they received emails from the perpetrators demanding gift cards in exchange for rating removals, with threats to leave additional bad ratings if the requests weren’t met.

It’s certainly a trend to keep an eye on. And that should be part of a monitoring process you’re already doing for all customer reviews – fake or real, positive or negative. We break down why managing customer reviews is important, and what to do if you suspect a fake Google review.

Importance of monitoring reviews + tech options

In today’s Internet-driven world, the average consumer isn’t showing up to your restaurant without first doing a little research. This may include checking out your social media and scanning your menu from your website. But often the first step is reading reviews. In fact, one recent study showed more than 63% of consumers check Google reviews through Google Maps and Search before visiting a business location. This means you want to do your best to curate the experience for those reading.

Google leads the way for where people turn for reviews, making it a good starting point for monitoring. But even monitoring just this one site can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re running multiple restaurants. To make the process easier, you might consider a reputation management platform, which allows you to see and respond to reviews from multiple places (Google, Yelp, Tripadvisor, OpenTable, etc.) all in one spot. Technology options in the hospitality space include Yext, Neighbourhood Networks, SevenRooms, and Rannko, to name a few. 

“We alert you whenever a new review comes in so you don’t have to monitor eight different sites,” says Tony Small, CEO of Neighbourhood Networks. “Responding to every single review on every platform would be best practice, but isn’t necessarily practical, so we tell customers to focus on Google and Facebook, and even if you respond to just those two, you’re ahead of the game.”

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How to respond to negative (and positive) customer reviews

Ideally you’ll respond to both positive and negative reviews. The main purpose is to not only acknowledge the reviewer but also to demonstrate to others who read that review that you truly care. 

For positive reviews, a “Thank you, we’re so glad you enjoyed your experience.” can do the trick, but aim to personalize a small part of each note to give it a human touch. For negative reviews, a simple approach is to say, “Sorry you had a bad experience. This is not typical. Please reach out on ‘X’ phone number or ‘X’ email.” 

“You don’t want to get into this pushback dialogue because who you're actually really trying to communicate with is the next person who goes online and sees that review,” says Small. “If the negative reviewer does actually call you, part of that conversation could be about modifying their review or taking it down, and sometimes people do that because you’ve taken the time to try to rectify the problem.”

Small advises responding to reviews within the same day that they’re posted. Again, the goal is to address them before the next person sees it.

What to do if you suspect a fake Google review

Not all negative Google ratings are warranted. Common red flags are an absence of photos or explanation of the poor experience that could otherwise prove the reviewer dined at your restaurant. You can also look at the reviewer’s profile, and see how many other ratings they’ve given and to what length of detail they’ve gone in the past.

Unfortunately there’s no magical solution to immediately wipe out fake Google reviews. Google uses machine learning algorithms to scan reviews and automatically remove or flag content that violates its policies. But naturally, this can’t catch everything. If you suspect a suspicious review, Google encourages businesses to request removal here or to reach out to their Help Center. Flagged reviews get evaluated by a team of human operators based on Google’s content policies. When a violation is spotted, the review is removed, and in some cases, Google will suspend the user’s account or even pursue litigation.

Unfortunately, the process often turns into a waiting game for operators. Google chose not to comment when asked how long operators can expect to wait for a reply once a review is flagged but did say operators work 24/7 to review reported content. Google also said, “Not all policy flags will get a reply, however that doesn’t mean the flag isn’t looked into.” 

Tips for boosting your Google ratings if they start to drop

When restaurant ratings slip, there are a few tactics for proactively turning them around. Naturally, you should start by looking at negative reviews left by genuine customers and identify any trends that can be fixed. For example, if long wait times are a common complaint, don’t dismiss it, even if you can’t immediately solve the problem. Usually there are short-term solutions, like posting signage that says you’re short-staffed and asking for customers’ patience. Transparency can go a long way in preventing negative reviews.

Your next best move is to ask your loyal customers to leave you a review. “There’s only one way to deal with negative reviews, and that’s to bury them in positive reviews,” says Small. 

Consider posting a sign near the exit that reads, “Like your experience? Post a positive review!” and include a QR code that links to your Google business profile. Likewise, you could include a similar message on the actual check or post your request to social media. Some operators even offer incentives. “You really want to encourage people because think how many times you go somewhere and never leave a review,” says Small.

But first, be sure to make sure your Google business profile is up-to-date and optimized. (We share some tips for that here.)

[Photo courtesy Mikhail Nilov; Screenshot courtesy Neighbourhood Networks]